Team Dad: I’m grateful to them, and I’m grateful to my father for planning so well for his old age

(November 23, 2009) Hear the audio version

My father always believed in planning ahead. He made a list of the hymns and scriptures he wants at his memorial service back in 1976. In 1996 he drafted his obituary and added it to the papers in the blue metal box labeled “death,” even though, according to the obit., we won’t need it until until 2015.

Perhaps because his own parents, who were born in the 19th century, lived well into their 80’s, Dad planned for decades of retirement. He and Mom often said they didn’t want to be a burden to me and my three brothers. Thanks to several good jobs, a healthy 20th century California real estate market and some timely investments, Dad should be able to live out the rest of his years in the Assisted Living complex he and Mom chose and planned for. (Barring another economic collapse, that is.)

Since I was the only adult child living nearby, Dad began turning his financial and legal affairs over to me about three years ago. First he introduced me to his accountant, then his banker. I knew we were doing the right thing the morning we had an appointment with his lawyer to sign papers giving me Power of Attorney. Dad suddenly didn’t know where the office was as he told me to drive round and around what turned out to be the wrong block. Before Mom died, she asked me to deal directly with their doctor and help them make medical decisions. Now I make all of Dad’s appointments, pay his bills, his taxes and deal with the nurses who manage his daily tasks. I am my father’s guardian.

But I couldn’t do this without Team Dad. He chose his professional advisors wisely while he was still able. I call on them often. And Dad was smart enough to bring me on board when he did. He’s too proud to admit he has dementia, but he knows. And it doesn’t matter because he planned ahead for this possibility. Every time I visit Dad, I thank the nurses for taking care of him. What I don’t do often enough is thank him. This Thanksgiving week is the perfect time to start.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.

What I had to do when my father became a danger behind the wheel

(April 10, 2009) Hear the audio version

My grandfather gave up driving the day he found himself going the wrong way on a one-way street. Yay, Grandpa! Unfortunately, my father refused to stop driving voluntarily, even after three crashes and several near-misses in a six-month period. My mother and I pleaded with him. I said I would make sure they were able to get wherever they needed or wanted to go. But he wouldn’t listen.

Of course I knew driving meant more than transportation to my father, as it does to every 16-year-old itching to get his license. Driving means independence, freedom, responsibility, adult behavior – things Dad stubbornly clung to in spite of his age-related failings. Though I understood and sympathized with him, a car is a potential lethal weapon, one he clearly was no longer able to control responsibly.

So I turned him in.

That’s right. I reported my own father – who had taught me how to drive – to the DMV. I didn’t tell him. I just filled out a form I found online, a “Request for Driver Re-examination,” with boxes to check for specific examples of Dad’s behavior behind the wheel. I also described the crashes he never reported to his insurance company, the turns in front of oncoming cars, the rolling through stop signs and red lights. As an immediate family member I was able to request confidentiality. My hand shook as I signed the form.

The process took about three months – first an “interview” at one DMV office, then a behind-the-wheel examination at another. That was a very short test. Afterwards he was unhappy and I felt guilty, but no one was maimed or killed. My brother took the beat-up car. I hired a (much-younger) friend of Dad’s to take him out shopping every Saturday. They also go to lunch like old frat brothers. I started accompanying both of my parents to the doctor. Mom and I so appreciated that time together in the last six months of her life. And Dad – he actually thanks me now for driving. I tell him he’s very welcome.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.